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Despair, Josep Llimona

A girl, slumped to her knees, her hands delicately clasped and her face covered by her mane of hair, rises up in the middle of the pond in the Plaça d'Armes, in Barcelona's Parc de la Ciutadella. It seems that nothing or no one can console her. Here Despair takes the form of the sculpture of a woman.

The sculptor Josep Llimona received the prize for the 5th International Art Exhibition in 1903, for his first version of the public sculpture Despair. The one in the Parc de la Ciutadella is a copy of the 1917 original, which was made of marble and is now on display at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. It appears that the figure was originally intended to be placed in a mausoleum. This perhaps explains why Llimona's sculpture depicts a mysterious woman in a pose of abandonment and sadness. Like a Renaissance sculpture, the figure emerges from a block of stone, but the soft, rounded forms contrast with the hard material. This woman's continuous melancholy can be perceived subtlely and conceals much of the character's inner world. The face, covered by a mane of hair, is not revealed. Only the gesture of the hands, which are gently clasped, gives the sculpture a semblance of life.

Indeed, Despair is a paradigmatic work of Catalan art nouveau, modernisme, replete with symbolism while stripped of dramatism. The idealisation of the female form and the theme of sorrow were characteristic of the taste of the period. Far removed from the vitality of Rodin's work, Llimona's sculpture marks the period just before the artistic avant-gardes burst onto the scene.

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